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Dark Energy Survey Using World's Most Powerful Digital Camera Begins [VIDEO]

Sep 04, 2013 01:40 PM EDT
The Dark Energy Camera is pictured here mounted on the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
(Photo : Reidar Hahn/Fermilab)

Researchers have recently launched the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a five-year mission dedicated to determining why the expansion of the universe is speeding up as well as gain a better understanding of dark energy, which is believed to be behind this acceleration.

Carried out using the world's most powerful digital camera, a 570-megapixel monster mounted on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile, scientists plan on systematically mapping one-eighth of the sky, or 5,000 square degrees, in unprecedented detail. The camera is known as DECam (Dark Energy camera) and is capable of perceiving light as far as 8 billion light-years away.

"With the start of the survey, the work of more than 200 collaborators is coming to fruition," said DES Director Josh Frieman of the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. "It's an exciting time in cosmology, when we can use observations of the distant universe to tell us about the fundamental nature of matter, energy, space, and time."

In all, the start of the program represents the culmination of 10 years of preparation by some 25 institutions in six different countries.

"The start of the survey is a great thing to see after almost a decade of work on the instrument, telescope, software and plans," said DePoy, a member of Texas A&M's George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.

Over the next five years, scientists plan on using DECam to obtain color images of 300 million galaxies and 100,000 galaxy clusters. They estimate that, in doing so, they will uncover 4,000 new supernovae, many of which will have likely formed when the universe was half the size it is today.

In all, the survey will utilize four main methods to help scientists gain a greater understanding of dark energy. This includes counting galaxy clusters, measuring supernovae, studying the bending of light and using sound waves to create a large-scale map of the universe's expansion over time. While none of these will allow the researchers to measure dark energy directly, by combining each of these for the first time in a single experiment, they hope to come up with the most precise measurements to date of the elusive force.

"The Dark Energy Survey will be one of the most important surveys in the next 10 years, not just because of the targeted science, but because so many astronomers will be able to take their own data and do their research," said Nicholas B. Suntzeff, university distinguished professor of physics and astronomy at Texas A&M and director of the university's astronomy program. "This is the most carefully designed project I have ever been involved in, and the science from the Dark Energy Survey will be spectacular."

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